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DOJ defends 2 Texas teens in fight with school district over long locs

By Christina Carrega

The Justice Department has stepped into a legal dispute on behalf of two Texas male students who say their school district discriminated against them when they were not allowed to attend classes because they refused to cut the length of their hair that they wore in locs.

“The United States has a significant interest in ensuring that all students can participate in an educational environment free of unlawful discrimination and in the proper application of the Equal Protection Clause, Title IX, and Title VI,” according to the statement of interest that was filed on Friday.

The parents of De’Andre Arnold and Kaden Bradford filed a civil lawsuit in the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas last year against Barbers Hill Independent School District claiming their children were discriminated against because they are boys and the school district’s hair length rule targets male students only.

Arnold and Bradford wore their natural hair in locs “as an outward expression of their Black identity and culture” and grew them longer than allowed under district rules, which required hair not to be “below the eyebrows or below the ear lobes when let down,” according to the statement of interest. In January 2020, both of their parents filed dress code exemption requests to the school district, which declined to consider their requests a month later, according to the lawsuit.

The Justice Department noted in its statement of interest that it is using the term “locs” in place of “dreadlocks” because that term is derived from English slave traders referring to Africans’ hair as “dreadful.”

The Justice Department has an ongoing investigation from 2017 related to another complaint alleging that the Barbers Hill Independent School District refused to allow a Native American student to attend school unless he cut his hair to conform with the hair length policy, according to the lawsuit.

“To date, the investigation has focused on alleged religious discrimination. DOJ has not endorsed the legal validity of the District’s hair length policy as it relates to allegations of sex- and race-based discrimination,” according to the statement of interest.

Because of the district’s rule, Arnold and Bradford transferred to Good Creek Consolidated Independent School District, which is located about 12 miles away.

Arnold graduated from Ross S. Sterling High School in the Goose Creek district, and Bradford returned to the Barbers Hill district “only after this Court granted Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction and enjoined the District from enforcing its hair length policy against” Bradford, according to the statement of interest.

The district filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in June, and the attorneys for Arnold and Bradford filed their response on Friday, according to online records.

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